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Movie Review: Cinderella Man (2005)

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I want to hate Russell Crowe a lot of the time. Really, I do. Russell Crowe is the consummate bad dude. Even before he was throwing phones at the help at plush hotels, Crowe was allegedly helping Meg Ryan break up her marriage on the set of their movie. At the same time, his resume speaks for itself. Mystery, Alaska – The Insider – Gladiator – Proof of Life – A Beautiful Mind – and now Cinderella Man. With the exception of Master and Commander, which I found to be totally abysmal, Russell Crowe has had arguably the best run of movies of any actor since 1999. Also keep in mind that he had L.A. Confidential in 1997.

It is tough to hate a guy who is this talented on-screen. Cinderella Man is another Crowe movie that will do nothing but increase his profile as an actor. His portrayal of Jim Braddock will go down in history as one of the best boxing movies of all time. Crowe doesn’t achieve this alone. Not by a long shot.

The movie is directed by Ron Howard, (which I didn’t realize until I saw Clint Howard making a cameo as the referee of a match early on in the movie.) Ron Howard had his work cut out for him with this film because not only is it a boxing movie, but it takes place in the late 1920’s and into the 1930’s during The Great Depression. Howard had to capture the look and feel of the United States during one of its most downtrodden time periods, and also capture the desperation and overwhelming feelings of helplessness and emotion that occurred during that time. And Howard created a landscape that captured all the ugliness, while still making the shots beautiful and engaging.

One scene in particular, where Jim Braddock hits rock bottom and goes to the boxing commission to beg for money so that he can pay his electric bill, captures the desperation, pride, guilt, regret and sorrow while barely having a character speak a word. Paul Giamatti plays Braddock’s business manager and corner man. The looks on Giamatti’s face speak volumes during this scene. Giamatti will most certainly be nominated for a supporting actor Oscar, and it won’t surprise me if he wins.

If I had one complaint about the movie, it would probably be Renee Zellweger. I will admit that I didn’t like Zellweger coming into the movie, but I have been pleasantly surprised by her before, like in Cold Mountain. In the case of this movie, I thought she just missed the mark. Her accent was a little too “Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny” for me. When she wasn’t over-doing the impression and just interacting with the characters around her, she was great. Just a couple times she got lost in some kind of over-acting spell. Ultimately it doesn’t detract that much from the movie.

Oh, and this is a boxing movie, isn’t it? The fight scenes in this movie were incredible. The way that Ron Howard made you care about Jim Braddock, and the way that Russell Crowe portrayed him as such a clean and standup person, made the fight scenes gut-wrenching. You couldn’t help but feel like this older fighter who had been given a second chance on life was just going to eventually get crushed down in some tremendous wave of karmic backlash. It was during these fight scenes that I had a difficult time watching because I couldn’t stand to see something bad happen to this character.

Howard filmed the scenes actively, without turning them into a strobe-light montage of what a fight actually looks like. He let the action occur with minimal flashes and cuts that some directors tend to overuse. These camera antics make it hard to figure out what is going on and often times destroy entire portions of a movie. But Howard’s fight sequences were just as cohesive and coherent as the rest of the storyline.

Although Cinderella Man didn’t do all that well at the box office (just over $61 million in America,) it could easily get a second set of legs in video/DVD if it achieves all it can at the Oscars. Certainly nominations will be forthcoming. Crowe and Giamatti have already been nominated for Golden Globes – Best Actor and Supporting Actor respectively – and it wouldn’t surprise me if Ron Howard got some attention as well. I guess we will never know whether it was marketing or Russell Crowe or some other reason that the movie didn’t do well in the box office, but one thing is for sure. This movie is going to be around for a long time.

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This also appears at FilteringCraig.com

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About Craig Lyndall

  • http://home.comcast.net/~proy1/ Paul Roy

    Great review. This was an awesome movie with another brilliant performance by Crowe. I think he already got robbed of an Oscar for “A Beautiful Mind” because he is such an ass, but he should be the frontrunner for this performance. The movie was really hard to watch during the first half, as the depression era suffering was, well, depressing. The second half had me on the edge of my seat the whole time.

  • http://www.filteringcraig.com FilteringCraig

    Thanks Paul. I didn’t know the full story during the movie and I didn’t know whether Braddock was going to die in the ring or not and my head almost exploded watching the fight with Baer.